Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Has Hamas Success at the Polls Killed Hope for the Universality of Democracy?

Let's be serious for a moment. Freedom is not a God-given right; it is merited. Liberty is not a human condition. It is the result of a national consensus on the nature of human equality.

Raw human instinct for liberty makes us chafe against our societal tethers, mistaking freedom for license. Wisdom, on the other hand, causes us to tame that instinct and encourage it to lean all the harder against the harness of personal responsibility and mutual respect, so that as a nation we can seed the field of liberty and reap the harvest.

Americans know that freedom of religion is one of the fundamental human rights that gave birth to our country, yet our youthful success in this matter seems to be our Achilles heel. It gave us an unrealistic picture of other peoples' understanding of this and other basic human rights. We would be touching if we weren't so naive and cocksure.

Bush is right that human craving for liberty is perennial; but he may be wrong in underestimating the maturity of the social context it requires in order to flourish. To be realized, our desire for freedom must be rooted in the achievement of a certain level of understanding of, and hence respect for, fellow humanity. For liberty to thrive, this understanding must supersede race, sex, religion or any other of our human varietals. Everything in its time. Adolescence before majority. Wisdom begets respect begets freedom, not the other way around.

George Will makes the point nicely here, along with a few others about weathervane politics.

When I think that early 19th Century and economically destitute Germany was capable of electing Hitler to power and keeping him there until the very end, i.e. right up to their own suicidal destruction, I have no difficulty understanding how Hamas won the Palestinian vote, especially given the corruption of the opposition. The Palestinian people's anger is a volatile, flammable essence in search of a match.

[Thanks to betwix.com for the picture.]

In Iran, we had assumed that Ahmadinejad's victory was contrived through corrupt politics, which it may have been in part; but our optimism may have swept under the rug the possibility that many Iranians agree with this fanatic's insanity and that his quixotry might be playing to an audience.

Having said all this, I am going to hope against my better judgment that I am wrong, that democracy can precede, to wit engender, wisdom, and that Bush didn't make a mistake of historical proportions in Iraq. After all, perhaps the Iraqi people are just wise enough. And maybe the surprising election of Hamas will wake Palestinians up from their fanatic nightmare just long enough.


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